Simon Carter, Director, RM Education

John Hughes’ cult classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, would have looked very different had it been set in 2020. At the point the film’s titular character, having decided to skip a day of school, declares: “the question isn’t ‘What are we going to do?’, the question is ‘What aren’t we going to do?’”, his friend Cameron might well have pointed to the government’s social distancing guidelines and the film would have been brought to an abrupt end.

But thirty years on, and a global pandemic later, the idea of going into school or college has become somewhat of a novelty. Once taken for granted, pupils and parents are now acutely aware of the value of education institutions. And not just as places to learn, but places to live and socialise beyond the confines of our own homes. So, now that lockdown measures have eased, what can we expect the education sector’s “new normal” to look like as we approach the new academic year in September?

Mind the continuity gap

This year’s World Youth Skills Day took place at a watershed moment for school leaders and educators. After COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures posed a significant threat to the continuity of young people’s skills development, education institutions were forced to adapt almost overnight to offer lessons remotely.

While the majority of school and colleges had to physically close their doors to all but a handful of students, their remote offerings, along with the wave of apps and technology designed to support online learning, quickly rose to prominence to help bridge the gap. From primary school pupils through to mature students, putting anyone’s education on pause simply wasn’t an option.

What has quickly become clear is that technology is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in education’s “new normal”. From empowering staff to offer the same high-quality teaching from their homes, to helping learners to develop a range of hard and soft digital skills online, and even facilitating better collaboration between the two, technology has become a lifeline for educators. And, most importantly, it has permanently changed the way the sector operates.

After all, distance training is increasingly the most common way of imparting skills, which means the last four months have simply sped up the inevitable: the global digital transformation of the education sector.

Ahead of all pupils returning in September, now is the time for educators to ensure that a lack of curriculum adaptation, teacher preparedness or connectivity does not stand in the way of a move to the cloud and making sure their institutions are well placed to offer lessons remotely in future.

Tech me up Scotty

As lockdown measures continue to ease, and young people are increasingly called upon to help bridge the skills gaps faced in our changed economy, it’s important that they are well equipped with the right resources and technology to do so; and that they can continue to learn and develop in spite of any future disruptions.

The pivot to remote learning is only possible if all learners have access to computers, mobile devices, a working internet connection and the software platform to make it happen – which is something all schools should be looking to implement in one form or another from September. After all, the future of technology in education does not rely solely on creating new, exciting and innovative tools, but in thinking about how existing technology can make digital learning safe, accessible and equal for all.

For education institutions, this means utilising digital tools effectively – and shaping them where needed – to make them work for their learners and staff, inside as well as outside of the classroom. Until this extraordinary forced lockdown, where the world’s educators had to learn to teach online overnight, technology has often been underused and has taken a back seat for schools.

Next steps

As a sector, we must champion flexibility and embrace all that technology has to offer – and ensure there’s a well thought out plan in place before implementing technology widely. From using video conferencing when people cannot attend parents’ evenings, to sharing learning resources with students on snow days, and even upending students’ overall approach to work (reading the resources first only, and then approaching teachers virtually with any questions), technology can empower schools and colleges to be even better than they are today.

As we move towards September, those schools that take forward the digital learnings from lockdown are those that stand to reap the biggest rewards in the new academic year and beyond.

Simon Carter, Director, RM Education

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